Tuesday, January 5, 2010

January 5: Thin Lizzy, "Cowboy Song"

Artist: Thin Lizzy
Song: "Cowboy Song"
Album: Jailbreak/Live And Dangerous
Year: 1976/1978

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Over the decades, few figures have attracted as many musical tributes as the classic "American cowboy of the west." For whatever reason, this image of the pioneering, saddle to the wind vagabond has captured the dreams and souls of countless great musicians throughout their careers. Regardless of country or style of music, this single image somehow crosses all boundaries and is in many ways one of the few elements that can link together seemingly unrelated performers. This idea of the iconic cowboy turning up in seemingly impossible places is perhaps no more obvious than in the magnificent 1976 single, "Cowboy Song," from Irish rock icons, Thin Lizzy. More than nearly any other group in history, Thin Lizzy somewhat suffers from the runaway success of their single, "The Boys Are Back In Town," and for many people, this is the song that defines the band. However, the truth of the matter is, there was far more t the sound and style of Thin Lizzy, and though "The Boys Are Back In Town" does accurately represent the almost carefree, somewhat macho sound of many of their songs, it also leaves a large amount of the groups' music overshadowed. To fully understand why Thin Lizzy holds such high regard, as well as experiencing one of the truly great songs in music history, one must hear, "Cowboy Song."

"Cowboy Song" was originally released on Thin Lizzy's breakout album, Jailbreak, but the song is also one of the most stunning tracks on their live release, Live And Dangerous, which was released two years later. After Jailbreak produced top ten singles with both "The Boys Are Back In Town" and the albums' title, the group released "Cowboy Song" as a single (though only in the U.S. and Canada), and it quickly became a fan favorite and in many ways, defines everything there is to love about the music of Thin Lizzy. Much like many of their great songs, "Cowboy Song" is driven by an amazing bassline, as well as a very prominent and powerful guitar riff. Along with his instantly recognizable voice, Phil Lynott has an extremely distinct sound and style in his bass playing. On "Cowboy Song," After the song kicks into gear following the slower opening, Lynott's bass seems to almost mimic the sound of a horse trotting, and this was surely an intentional move, as few groups paid as much attention to the impact of each instrument on the overall mood as one will find within the music of Thin Lizzy. The groups' signature "double guitar" sound is as brilliant on this song as any other, and Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson provide a fantastic compliment to Lynott's stunning vocal work.

When one looks at the most distinctive and truly honest vocalists in history, the voice and style of Phil Lynott is rather difficult to top. Lynott commits himself completely to every song, and the amount of emotion and fantastic moods that he creates have rarely been equaled. On "Cowboy Song," both sides of Lynott's voice are on display, as his beautiful crooning in the opening is wonderfully contrasted by his more well known, "rock" style singing during the remainder of the song. Regardless of the tone of his singing, there is never a moment anywhere on "Cowboy Song" where Lynott comes off as anything less than an "authentic" voice from the southern U.S...without the drawl in his voice. Furthering the "authentic" feel of the song, "Cowboy Song" has one of the most simple, yet truly brilliant lyrics in music history. Truth be told, within the lyrics, the amazing imagery that Lynott creates easily surpasses a majority of the finest "true" country singers. Painting a vivid picture of the "classic" cowboy on the range idea, Lynott sets the scene perfectly with the opening of, "...I am just a cowboy, lonesome on the trail...a starry night, the campfire light, the coyote call, and the howling winds wail..." Lynott then weaves in the other essential element of any cowboy song, as well as a subject that over the years, he proved his mastery of: the female he left behind. The lyrics are truly magical, and so wonderfully universal, that combined with Lynott's amazing voice and raw, straightforward delivery, enable "Cowboy Song" to become a true classic across a number of genres.

While one would assume that the theme of the cowboy is one which is exclusive to American country music, in reality, it is one of the few themes that seems to run through nearly every genre and musical culture in history. Though it occasionally takes on a different form, it is truly inexplicable that this single image has found its way into so many far off cultures, as well as musical styles that are worlds away from the "classic" country sound. Presenting this ability to transcend both culture and musical style, Thin Lizzy's simply titled, "Cowboy Song," is unquestionably not only one of the greatest songs every written on this theme, but easily one of the most powerful and beautiful rock songs the world has ever heard. Led by the phenomenal singing and writing of Phil Lynott, the song became one of Thin Lizzy's most beloved songs, and it even received a remake by the somewhat unknown early 1990's "supergroup," Golden Smog. Though similar scenes of "Americana" run through a number of Thin Lizzy's songs, it was never as clearly laid out as one finds here, and it is through this song that one can gain a clear picture as to why Phil Lynott is still held in such high regard as a performer. Backed by the unmistakable sound of one of the most influential and pioneering bands in history, there are few songs that so perfectly combine the power of rock music and an absolutely spectacular vocal and lyric as one will find on Thin Lizzy's 1976 classic, "Cowboy Song."

1 comment:

Tee said...

Very nice. I like the way you take the reader on a tour behind the bright lights to the other side of the stage where the songwriters create their art.

Much appreciation! Kudos to you!